Doug Kanag doesn't hesitate when he's asked what he thinks about the recent proposal to ban smoking in all public places in Lucas County.
“I'll tell you what, they'll never ban it here,” he said. “I won't enforce it.”
Mr. Kanag owns the Smoke Shack near the intersection of Reynolds Road and Dorr Street. The business sells cigarettes and cigars. You can buy alcohol, pop, and some other items, too, but more than half of the sales in the Smoke Shack are from cigarettes or cigars.
As Mr. Kanag stands behind his counter, customers approach him with packs or cartons of cigarettes in their hands. When they overhear his comments, they jump at the chance to vent.
“I'm opposed,” said Ariel Kirkland. “This is a blue-collar working community, and we like our cigarettes.”
Standing next to the counter is Toledo police Officer Mike Early. Mr. Early doesn't smoke, other than an occasional cigar, but said the proposal goes too far. “If people want to smoke, let them smoke,” he said.
While today is the American Cancer Society's annual Great American Smokeout, a day when millions of Americans try to quit smoking for at least the day, Lucas County residents have had a more permanent proposal on their minds for two months.
Dr. David Grossman, Toledo-Lucas County health commissioner, told the county health board in September he wants it to pass a regulation banning smoking in all public places in the county. Medical evidence is clear, he said, that smoking, including inhaling second-hand smoke, can cause cancer.
A majority of the 11-member board, which is appointed by city and county officials in Toledo and its surrounding suburbs, have said they support Dr. Grossman. The regulation would be the toughest ban in Ohio.
In Bowling Green, a man is holding a public meeting Tuesday in the Wood County Public Library to discuss a petition to ban smoking in public places in the city.
Andrew Schuman, who has asthma, said he is concerned about his health and the health of others. He seeks to ban smoking in restaurants, theaters, laundromats, businesses, and other public places that derive no more than 35 per cent of gross annual revenue from food sales.
The petition will be circulated through mid-January. At least 610 signatures are needed to place the proposal on the May ballot.
Dr. Grossman plans to offer a draft regulation to the Toledo-Lucas County health board on Nov. 30, and hopes it will be OK'd in January. It would then take effect in 30 to 90 days. With that timetable, he is trying to beat a deadline: The state legislature is considering a bill that would prevent appointed boards like Dr. Grossman's from enacting no-smoking regulations; leaving that authority in the hands of elected bodies such as city councils or county commissions.
Dr. Grossman has taken a lot of heat for his proposal. His office has sometimes averaged dozens of e-mails, phone calls, and letters a day; many in strong opposition.
He plucked one letter from a pile on his desk that compares his proposal to something Communists or Nazis would try. Another letter sent to city and county officials, with a copy also sent to him, demands local government officials tell Dr. Grossman “he's nuts.”
“If I didn't get this kind of reaction, I'd be surprised,” he said.
But not all of the reaction has been negative. Dr. Grossman said he has received calls and letters from many who support his proposal.
He has met with a committee from the Academy of Medicine of Toledo and Lucas County, which represents many of the doctors in the Toledo area. He hopes the academy will pass a resolution supporting the ban.
“I have watched smoking devastate many lives,” said Dr. Patrick McCormick, academy president. He said that most physicians would probably support Dr. Grossman.
About one in four Lucas County residents smoke, according to the health department. The county's smoking rate is almost identical to the state's average. Ohio's smoking rate is the third highest in the country.
While the details of Dr. Grossman's proposal aren't ironed out yet, he said he doesn't want exceptions to the ban. Other health boards in Ohio have tried passing bans with exceptions, and the bans have been struck down.
A Franklin County court in Columbus ruled that health boards have the authority to ban smoking in public places, but they must ban it without exception. The argument being, if it's bad for one group of people, it's bad for everyone. That means bars, restaurants, bowling alleys, and even Mr. Kanag's Smoke Shack would be off limits to smokers wanting to light up.
Dr. Grossman still isn't sure how a ban would be enforced if the health board passed the regulation. It could become part of the health department's normal inspections of bars and restaurants, he said. Places selling food, even packaged food, must be inspected by the health department.
If the health department received a complaint about a possible violation, the department's inspectors could move up a site's inspection date. If a place was found to be in violation of the ban, the business probably would be fined, maybe $100 for the first offense, with escalating fines for subsequent offenses, Dr. Grossman said.
Passing a ban on smoking in public places might help lower the county's smoking rate, according to Debbie Matthews, who runs adult and teen smoking cessation programs at St. Luke's Hospital.
“Smokers have a lot of reasons to quit but sometimes what's pushed them to move is it just gets harder for them to smoke. They don't like being ostracized,” she said.